Charles Hardin Holley was born to Laurence and Ella Holley in 1936, in Lubbock, Texas, where the family made its home. Charles Holley would become the well-known musical artist better known as Buddy Holly. Around 1956, he dropped the "e" from his last name. As a child Buddy learned to play the violin and the piano, but soon found that his real interest lied in the guitar. Holly received much support from his parents throughout his career in music.
Holly's first taste of the music business came when he was merely five years old and won five whole dollars for his singing rendition of "Down the River of Memories" at a talent show. At the age of 13, Holly formed a band they named "Western Bop" with some school friends Bob Montgomery and Larry Welborn. Playing country music, the little band was broadcast on the local radio station KDAV during the years of 1953 and 1955. In the Southwest, the band had gained a reputation that led Decca records to sign them in 1956.
The record label only had interest in Holly and so it was only Buddy Holly who signed the contract. At the time, Holly was still producing country music. Along with Sonny Curtis and Bob Guess on backup, he released "Blue Days, Black Nights" and "Love Me." However, the success of these releases was minimal. One of the last recordings that Holly made with Decca was "That'll Be the Day", which Decca never released.
At this time, Holly was writing many of his own songs including the popular "Peggy Sue". An interesting story goes along with the title and lyrics of this piece. Holly originally wrote the words as "Cindy Lou" until a suggestion came from Jerry Allison, a member of Holly's new band, The Crickets. Allison was engaged to a girl named Peggy Sue (they are currently divorced) and thought his girlfriend's name was more suitable. After leaving Decca and getting together with the Crickets, Holly and the band had returned to Lubbock. Once, during the years of 1956 and 1957, Holly and Allison, working as a duo, opened for Elvis Presley.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets drove 90 miles to Clovis, New Mexico in February 1957. Here, they cut a demo of the rock version of "That'll Be the Day" in the studio of their producer Norman Petty. The success of this single acquired the group a contract from the Coral/Brunswick label in New York.
"That'll Be the Day" gained the number one spot in the charts by September of 1957. Oddly, under the management of Petty, some of the music that was recorded was credited only to the Crickets and some only to Holly, such as "Peggy Sue". Because they had a Rhythm and Blues sound, they were mistaken for a black group and were booked at the Apollo Theater where they were one of the first white acts to ever appear.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets became quite successful with songs such as "Oh, Boy!", which reached number 10 in the charts, as well as "Maybe Baby" and "Rave On." The group played a type of Rockabilly called Tex-Mex, because it originated in southern Texas, near the Mexican border.
Despite the success, Holly left the Crickets in 1958 after he married Maria Elena Santiago two weeks after meeting her. They subsequently moved to Greenwich Village in New York. Also, at this time, he split from Norman Petty, which caused Holly legal trouble as well as prompting his break with the Crickets.
In need of money, Holly decided to join the Winter Dance Party Tour of the Midwest in 1959. Also on this tour were the stars J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) and Ritchie Valens. After a gig in Iowa, exhausted from riding a bus that frequently broke down, Holly arranged for a small plane to carry them to their next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. The little Beechcraft Bonanza took off from Mason City, Iowa in the middle of the night on February 3, 1959 and plummeted to the ground only moments later, killing all on board. Buddy Holly was only 22 when he died. Ritchie Valens, who was on his way to becoming Rock and Roll's first Latin star, was only 17 when he died in this tragic crash, ending a career of great promise that had hardly started.
At the time of his death, the release of Holly's song "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" topped the charts in England for six weeks running. Buddy had recorded enough demos and uncompleted recordings that he continued to have hits until the mid 1960's. In the United Kingdom, Buddy Holly still managed to top the charts until 1978.
The Crickets remained together as a band until 1965. Their activities included a Buddy Holly tribute album. Holly continued to be prominent in the eye of the public and several collections of his unfinished recordings were complied posthumously including the nine-record set, "The Buddy Holly Story". In 1978, the feature film "The Buddy Holly Story" was released.
Holly's influence on artists who came after him has been immense. He and his band had a very heavy influence Bob Dylan, as well as on both the Beach Boys and the Beatles. It is thought that one of the reasons that the Beatles took an insect name, or a variation on an insect name, was inspired by the name of the Crickets. The Hollies, a rock group important in the 1960's, took their name from him. Don McLean's "American Pie" (a cover of this song was recorded by Madonna in 1999) is dedicated to Holly and the others who died in that plane crash.
Along with Holly's other accomplishments in rock and roll music, he was one of the first to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The legacy of Buddy Holly is currently being carried on by his widow, Maria Elena, who continues to tour in promotion of Holly.
Page author: N.G.